I think this is a tough one for me. We’ve all seen movies that have disappointed us, but how often can I truly say that the trailer or the promotional strategy was genuinely misleading, and not just making the film look better than it was?
(Incidentally, this is #17 in a series of 47 posts about movies, with topics selected by my friend, each given to me after the previous one is written. For more information, check out #1 here.)
The opposite also applies here, when films are marketed in a way that make them look less interesting then they turn out to be. In either case, how many times was I really even paying attention enough to the marketing campaign to even notice this?
Anyway, I thought of a few examples that sort of fit, so let me mention them here. Spoilers ahead, including something from my “Don’t Let Yourself Get Spoiled” list.
Part One: The Mismarketed
First of all, when I think of movies where the trailer “tricked me”, I can look no further than Man of Steel (2013, directed by Zach Snyder). Now, maybe this is just a case of the trailer simply made the movie look better than it was, but I really felt ripped off. Not only did the trailer make the movie look good, it made it look inspirational. It made it look like a version of Superman that was going to blow every prior film incarnation out of the water. My thoughts at the time were that if the film just has a semi-decent story and can maintain this tone, then I’ll be happy. Well, too bad that the very thing that differentiated the movie from the trailer was the tone. Rather than a thoughtful story with a courageous hero, we got this bombastic story with a hero who is made to appear callous and struggles constantly to be the character we actually came to see.
Another lesser known example is Random Hearts (1999, directed by Sydney Pollack). Now, in this case, I probably didn’t even see the trailer. I just saw that it was a film where Harrison Ford was playing a police officer, and so I went in assuming that there was some sort of police-y crime plot. And there was, sort of. But mostly, it was a drama about the fact that a plane crash takes the spouses of both Ford’s cop and Kristin Scott Thomas’ congresswoman, leading them to eventually realize that the two people were having an affair with each other. It was not only not what I was looking for, but it was also something of a boring, tedious mess.
An example I haven’t actually seen, but feel qualified enough to still reference, is Bridge to Terabithia, which I’m startled to realize came out ten years ago in 2007, directed by Gabor Csupo. The trailers for the film made it look like a story about children discovering a hidden portal to a fantasy world, and not a movie about how a lonely boy who has created an imaginary world with his equally lonely friend has to suddenly cope with that friend’s unexpected and tragic death (which is what the book is about). I think it’s knowing what is coming in the story that has kept me from ever watching the film.
Part Two: The Miscategorized
This is when a film is described as the wrong genre, so that you go into it really with a wrong set of expectations as to what it’s going to be. The best example I can think of for this was The Forgotten (2004, directed by Joseph Ruben), but in this case the result was positive. Actually, it’s probably not truly “miscategorized” so much as the marketing was simply restrained: what I’d heard of the movie (which admittedly was very little) revealed only that a woman is suddenly told by everyone that her recently dead child was actually a product of her mentally unstable imagination. I had no idea if the movie was a conspiracy film, a science fiction piece, or a psychological drama. As a result, the answer, when it’s revealed, was genuinely startling. To give you a hint, the first time that she finds someone who has genuine information to give her, some mighty force suddenly pulls that person through the roof and into the sky.
Another example of miscategorization didn’t effect my viewing of the movie, but it could theoretically for other people, and that was The Martian (2015, directed by Ridley Scott).
In this case, it wasn’t the marketing people who put the film in the wrong category, but the people who decided the Golden Globe categories. The Martian won two Golden Globes, Best Musical or Comedy Motion Picture, and Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Motion Picture. Now, sure there were funny bits in The Martian, but nobody would ever seriously describe this film as a comedy. And certainly not a musical. Actually, I don’t know anything about the Golden Globes, so maybe it was the producers or studios themselves who did that so it’d have a better chance of winning! (The drama side was taken by The Revenant that year, which was a bit more of a sure-thing).
Part Three: The Mistitled
This is probably the easiest category to think of examples from.
In some cases, the title chosen seems to be not representative of the movie overall, but rather about one small bit of it. A classic example of this would be Seven Chances (1925, directed by Buster Keaton). The story is about a guy who has to get married by 7:00 pm that night in order to gain a huge inheritance, but when he accidentally puts off his girlfriend, he is pushed by his business partner to just marry somebody. So they go to the club and inside he finds seven women sitting around–seven “chances” to find a bride. It’s a funny sequence with various sight gags coming with each rejection, but it’s just one sequence in the movie and one that even comes quite to the beginning. A better title might have been something like Buster Keaton Gets Chased by a Thousand Disgruntled Women in Bridal Veils, which is basically what happens for the climactic final third of the film.
Another example is Hanging Up (2000, directed by Diane Keaton), a bit of a flop of a comedy which gets its title from the idea that star Meg Ryan decides to cut herself off from her annoying sisters by unplugging her phones, etc. It’s basically a single story beat in an unevenly paced movie, and it doesn’t even last that long. It’s a strange title that is consistent with the movie’s lack of strong direction.
I thought of at least two Star Trek films that have titles that are just sort of stupid and meaningless, which are Star Trek Insurrection (1998, directed by Jonathan Frakes) and Star Trek Into Darkness (2013, directed by J.J. Abrams). The first has got a not particularly interesting “insurrection” plot somewhere in it, but it’s not the film’s major focus (and indeed not the only Star Trek film to have such a plot). The title for the second is just random and doesn’t mean anything other than “things are getting more serious now”. Basically, the word “dark” or “darkness” was just trendy at the time.
A funny example is the movie Alien from LA (1998, directed by Albert Pyun), which I have never seen except for as an episode of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. I was showing this episode to my daughter and she was frustrated to realize after a while that there were no aliens in the movie at all, but that rather the alien was the ordinary girl from Los Angeles who accidentally falls into a weird subterranean civilization while looking for her father. I mean, it’s right there in the title, but you can see how she would have been confused.
Finally, The Neverending Story is quite misleading, because the film totally comes to an end at one point. So does Batman Forever.
Till next time.